Out gay actor Robert Gant is known world over to fans of Showtime's hit series Queer As Folk, on which he appears weekly as the HIV-positive college professor "Ben Bruckner." He was previously seen for one-and-a-half seasons as the eccentric vice principal "Calvin Krupps" on the WB series Popular, and made a lasting impression from his guest appearance on Friends as one of the two stunning men that Lisa Kudrow's character dated simultaneously. Last year Mr. Gant contacted SAGE to ask about ways in which he could work with us on LGBT aging issues, and he enthusiastically accepted our invitation to participate in SAGE's 11th Annual Fire Island Pines Celebration as Master of Ceremonies--with additional collaborations planned for the future. On July 6th, he spoke with SAGE's Doug Edelson about his work with SAGE and aging in the LGBT community. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.
DE: In your various interviews in The Advocate, it was clear that you have gone to great lengths to become a self-actualized man. Yet at the same time, you spoke about your fear of growing old alone. I was struck by the dichotomy between the fear and the self-actualization.
RG: Well, I don't feel that I have that fear anymore. As a younger person that fear was very pronounced. It's not today. I'm not afraid of being old and alone, because I enjoy my own company, for one thing--for the first time in my life. And I think that's something gay people in great part have a tough time doing because of our self-esteem issues. Collectively and individually we have a lot of work to do on ourselves to undo some of the damage that has been wreaked upon us by society in suggesting that we are less than whole people. And so we look to something outside ourselves to feel whole and OK...We [now] have an opportunity to rectify the situation, and have family as we define it, and friends, and to be self-realized enough so we like who we are and are comfortable with not only being gay but with being old and gay. I'm happy to have a sense of contentment with myself and with aging.
Of course, I'm sure some folks are going to read that statement and think, "Yeah, sure buddy, just wait till your're 60, or 70, or 80." That very well may be the case, but that said I'm doing everything I can now to learn to be comfortable with the changes as they're occurring. And not to be in fear of them.
DE: Would you talk a bit about the things that drew you to SAGE and the connection you feel with the organization?
RG: I believe that ageism is the most important thing we have to focus on as a culture at the moment. We've turned our attention beautifully to the AIDS crisis and youth issues, and aging is the great untended field. And it makes sense that it's being left to last. I think, perhaps, it is the issue that holds the most fear for us as gay people--particularly as gay men.
When I got the show [his current role as Ben Bruckner on Queer As Folk] I realized I was going to have an opportunity to be of service [to the LGBT community] in a broader way. And I collected all the mailings from all the different charitable organizations, and really went through [them] and thought about what would be of greatest interest, and SAGE really came to the fore...People don't want to associate with old age at this point. I ran into a friend who heard I was doing the fund raiser for SAGE in the Pines, and asked if he wanted to come out to the Island, and he said he was not quite ready to be associated with the group yet. He didn't want to be thought of as an old person. This is the stuff that has to change.
In my life, in my process of self-realization, I look most at the things that I'm afraid of--and I think as a community, getting old is the thing were perhaps most afraid of. And I'm the kind of person who just wants to take a look at that...to get to the core, and figure out how we can do something about it. It's my nature. And I think especially because so little had already been done, it made it all the more appealing because I think the need seems to be the greatest. I'm thrilled there's such amazing groundwork laid by SAGE and all of its offshoots...I'm grateful to get to play a part in tackling the issue.
DE: What does the concept of a positive LGBT aging future mean to you?
RG: I just want to see people stop being so afraid. I want to stop being so afraid. Getting old doesn't have to be a bad thing. In the same way that I and others have spent a lot of time doing work on our perceptions of ourselves as gay people, and have learned to love ourselves, I really think we can accomplish the same sort of growth and self-love around aging. We need to turn our attention to it. And people just don't want to do that. [Because doing that] is really scary. But I think it was really scary to deal with being gay at first. So, in a way this is the next closet that you really can't hide in. It carries with it all the potential pains, and the loss, and the missing out that the closet carries...But it just doesn't make sense--for me, certainly--I don't think any of us--not to work on this and ease the pain that goes along with getting older as a gay person.
DE: The way you speak about things is very much in tune with Buddhism and the philosophy underpinning Eastern religions, Have you studied them?
RG: I have. And I think we effect what we can. This was already printed in that first article in The Advocate--that quote by Gandhi that I love so much, "We must be the change we wish to see in the world." I'm being the change by being true to myself, by coming out as a gay person, by being a gay actor, and with respect to issues around aging
Look, this isn't entirely a selfless thing. It's very selfish in many respects. I want to be happy as an older person, and I want to do the work. I want to do the work both within myself, because I know that's going to be the greatest source of my ability to be happy, but also to create a community that I'll enjoy being old in. And one currently doesn't exist, as far as I can see...[To create this community it means] we're talking about broad-based change on a lot of levels. We're talking about actual physical implementation of a community in different cities around the country, with social services and outreach. We're also talking about a massive PR campaign which is about changing the way society looks at getting old and the way gay people look at getting old. Most of the work is going to be done from within, but I think we can effect some of it in the media and the public eye.
DE: Anything else you'd like to say?
RG: It's really exciting to see what SAGE has already accomplished and I'm really grateful that it exists. SAGE has done so much and the issue is so enormous. We have lots more to do, but I'm grateful that all the folks that have worked so hard over the years have done the work they have. It makes it that much easier for us to move ahead from here.